Wolf Neck Woods, Maine:
A Cross Country Skiing Adventure
by Sherry Ballou Hanson
Recently I decided to visit 200-acre
Wolf Neck Woods State Park in Maine on my cross-country skis instead of in
hiking boots. This narrow point of land is known for its fine hiking trails along
the shore and into the woodlands along Casco Bay on the southeast and the
Harraseeket River to the west.
Gone were the leaves on the delicate birch trees; ditto the ospreys that nest on
Googins Island for the summer. No kayakers in the bay either. So why did I
For the spruce, white pine and hemlock woven overhead against a winter sky,
sun dancing madness on the bay, its bright sparkles hinting of the warmth so far
away on a February day in Maine.
Located in Freeport, the 200 acres at Wolf Neck Woods State Park were donated
to the state in 1969 by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence M.C. Smith of that town. This park
contains an amazing variety of ecosystems, including white pine and hemlock
forests, a salt marsh estuary and the rocky shorelines on Casco Bay and the
There are approximately 5 miles of hiking trails and a picnic area, as well as 10
interpretive placards mounted at various locations along the trails. Most of
these placards stand along the Casco Bay Trail where I came to ski.
Pack a Lunch, Bring Your Skis
I left the car on Wolf Neck Road outside the gate since the park is closed in
winter and skied the 3/10 mile into the park. At the south end of the parking
area to the right is a large map showing the location of the various trails.
I chose Casco Bay Trail because of its proximity to the bay. Though there are a
couple places where I had to remove my skis because of rock steps or steep
inclines, the scenery along this trail is worth it. There are so many places where
one can step out of the skis and go out on the rocks beside the bay ... I took quite
a while. I also packed a lunch.
I headed down through the woods, the winter-bare branches of the hardwoods
in distinct contrast to the leafy canopy playing overhead in a summer breeze.
After skiing over the first of a series of footbridges I came to the first of the
interpretive signs, describing life between the tides. There is a bench here for the
skier who needs to decompress before getting on with the adventure, also
access to rocky ledges along the water’s edge. This section of the trail is
wheelchair accessible and particularly friendly to cross country skiers as it is
wide and flat.
Much of the sedimentary rock along the shore, laid down millions of years ago
when the earth was formed, is upfolded and hard to walk on. But there are also
flatter areas of ledge and a few bold outcroppings where one can sit and think, a
rare pleasure in day-to-day life for many of us.
Winter Paradise in Maine
I skied on over another footbridge, really getting into the evergreens. My idea of
winter paradise in Maine is a carpet of snow beneath my skis and the whisper of
white pines overhead. Add to this a deep blue sky and sun sparkling off the sea
and you understand my choice of the Casco Bay Trail. It is not long, and there
are some obstacles, but the experience, just a few miles from downtown
Freeport is unique.
There is a bench at the placard describing life in the estuary, and another when
you reach the osprey nesting area sign describing Googins Island just offshore.
After almost vanishing twice in the last 100 years, ospreys are rebounding,
especially on the Maine coast.
First hunting and egg collecting decimated the population, then the pesticide
DDT and development along the shore nearly led to their demise. Since these
birds leave Maine in early September and don’t return until mid-April, I did not
see them, but with half the foliage on Googins Island gone in winter I could
clearly see two nests.
Ospreys return to the same nests yearly to fish, work on their nests and mate, so
empty nests are a good indication of the number of pairs that will return in
The trail is not wheelchair accessible from here on, so there are narrow stretches,
some rock steps, a couple of steep declines and inclines where, depending on
snow cover, you may have to remove the skis.
I took my skis off at the rock steps, but more snow would make it possible to ski
down beside this brief section. The Casco Bay Trail is a nice choice for cross
country skiing after a base of snow is established, but don’t plan a ski outing
here without good snow cover because roots will play havoc with your progress.
Where the trail comes closest to Googins Island I took off my skis and climbed
down to the rocks with my lunch. There are not many days in the course of a
Maine winter to feel the sun on one’s face, but this was one of those days. There
was not another human in sight and I stayed a while.
A harbor seal fishing for his lunch bobbed up not far offshore. These seals feed
on small fish, shrimp and shellfish near the ledges and are permanent residents,
lest you fear all wildlife leaves Maine in winter.
A Good Spot to Watch Canada Geese
After lunch I pushed on, removing my skis to ascend a set of wide wooden
steps on a steep incline, then proceeded over another footbridge, this one with
At the placard describing the animals in the bay is another bench and a great
view south towards Freeport and out along the bay. Herring gulls and black-
backed gulls soar overhead here.
This is a good spot to watch Canada Geese leaving the area in fall or returning
in spring. And Maine has the only major breeding population of the common
eider duck in the United States south of Alaska.
I removed the skis again to descend steps, cross a bridge and go up, soon
passing another interpretive sign describing the islands and beyond, and this
location may offer the best view in the park, in my biased opinion.
A large, downed bare tree trunk arches out over the water here, so I cheated
and climbed right out there. Unless a winter storm carries this windfall out to
sea, you’ll find it when you ski the Casco Bay Trail this winter.
At this point I chose to ski back along the way I had come because I wanted to
stay close to the water, but you can proceed inland across the center of the neck,
heading southwest, then northwest across a fire road and beneath the power
After taking off the skis to cross a stone wall you will soon see the Hemlock
Ridge Trail on your right, where you can turn right and proceed to its junction
with the Harraseeket Trail, then right and return to the trail head where you
started. Or you can continue on past the junction with Hemlock Ridge Trail as
the Casco Bay Trail becomes the Harraseeket Trail.
Heading northwest, you will enter a depression after climbing down some
ledges, and in minutes, cross Wolf Neck Road. You are now approaching the
As you descend toward the cliffs there is a side trail on your left with wide open
views of the river and South Freeport. This is worth the short detour if you have
time as you are now high above the river. Continuing north on the Harraseeket
Trail, you will make a circuit above several steep inlets, then turn inland to the
southeast and back into the woods.
The dense woods in this area was the site of Colonial outposts in the 1700s, and
the site of the Means Massacre in May of 1756. The Means family was attacked
by Indians early in the morning. Mr. Means and one of the children were shot
and scalped, while a daughter was captured. Mrs. Means and two other children
escaped to a nearby blockhouse.
Winding toward the east you will soon be at the junction with Casco Bay Trail.
Turn left and you will soon be back to the trailhead where you began your
The complete Casco Bay Trail ski tour is less than 2 miles. If you turn back
while still along the bay area as I did, your distance is only about ¾ miles, short
for a ski tour but long on view, and rich in the unique combination of wildness
and spiritual connectedness that is Maine.
I find skiing in Wolf Neck Woods a good way to get centered, and to remember
why I live here.
Wolf Neck Woods Tips
Carry out what you bring in, please!
Bring drinking water
Bring the camera
Don’t forget sunglasses
Suggestions: sunblock, tissues, binoculars
About the Author: Sherry Ballou Hanson has published hundreds of articles in
magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and on line publications Sherry was a Health
Correspondent for drkoop.com in 2001. She also wrote the Mid-Coast chapter or Fodor’s
Travel Publications, Inc.'s 2005 Gold Guide, Maine Coast. Sherry lives in Brunswick,
Maine, and in her spare time, enjoys walking, hiking, inline skating, biking, kayaking,
skiing, archery, writing, reading and star gazing.
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